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Devoted to Christ Part 2

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Stonebrook Pillars:  Devoted to Christ—Part II

HANDOUT

A few years after Jesus was crucified, died, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, there was a follower of Jesus, a Jewish man named Stephen.

Stephen is described in Acts 6 as full of faith, full of the Spirit, full of power, full of wisdom, and full of grace.

I have prayed many times that the Lord would make me like Stephen.

He was having a great impact as he preached the message of Jesus.  The impact was so great that the Jewish leaders were jealous and angry.  They got so angry they arrested him and put him in a mock trial.

And Stephen rebuked them for their murder of Jesus Christ.  Well, that infuriated them. 

Acts 7:54–8:3 ESV

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him…they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul…

And Saul approved of his execution.  And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem… Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Just who is this violent, hate-filled, murderous character named Saul?  Well, he went on to become the most famous spokesman for Jesus in 20 centuries.  We now know him as Paul.  The Apostle Paul.

What happened to him?  How could someone change so radically?

We are in Week 2 of a new series on Stonebook’s Pillars.  These are our Core Values.  Biblical descriptions of what we want to be.

My fellow pastor, Guang, and I are joining forces today to talk about the first of those Pillars.  Among other things, we will talk about Paul.  What affected him so powerfully?

Overview of all our Pillars

As I said, we are in a new series discussing our Pillars.  Seven of them shown here. 

In these seven, we have articulated these different pieces of our DNA.  Our DNA is who we are.  And to a large extent, who we WANT to be.  Call these our core values, core ideology.

These seven have shaped how we see and teach the Christian life over the years. As a church, our desire is to be Christians who are described like this.  In a way, there is a movement through these seven.

From the inward and life-encompassing to our relationship with the world outside the walls of our home or this building.

Devoted to Christ—this is our topic this morning.

I won’t describe all seven this morning.  On our website, from last week’s sermon is a handout that gives a brief description of them. 

Let’s start off very fundamentally.   What ought to motivate us to be devoted to God? 

i.e., WHY be devoted?

Guang:

 It is the life to which God calls us. I considered men and women of the past, like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, these are men and women of faith, who had great devotion to God. Yet, Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised. For God has provided us something better for us, that apart from us they would be made perfect.”

So what is this something that is even better than what Abraham and David had? It is Christ in us. We have been born again, born from above. We are a new creation from inside out. We are from God. We are heavenly citizens. We are given the Spirit of sonship. We are the temple of the living God. We are guarded through faith and surrounded by grace. Therefore God has a very high expectation on us. He says, my beloved children, be imitators of me, and live a life of love. It is a heroic life he has called us. 

Brad: 

To you what is devotion?

Guang:

From the creation to the coming new heaven and new earth, I think devotion is well captured in this verse:

Slide

Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Devotion is both easy and hard. The (seemingly) easy part is to love the Lord, which we can do; the hard part is to do it with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Devotion by nature requires that we do it with all our whole heart and soul, at least that is where we aim to grow towards. It is less obvious that devotion requires great concentration and all of our mind.

In this sense, distraction is the greatest enemy of devotion. It is like running a race. You have to focus. You cannot afford to spare any energy. You have to do it with all your strength. It take you all to finish well. Jesus warns us, “Enter the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. But the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Devotion takes hard work. It is so easy to slip. 

Devotion takes diligence. Proverb says “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talking leads only to poverty”.  

Brad:

To you what does devotion look like?

Guang:

I think there are four eras of time in which the same devotion I mentioned earlier looks differently. You have the era of creation, the era of the OT, and the era of the NT, and the era of new heaven and new earth. In the era of creation and era of new heaven and new earth, our devotion comes naturally and effortlessly. We see God and we walk with God. The era of OT is like walking in the night. You don’t see God. You have only a partial revelation from God, his laws and his promises. A devout man would go through the trials of life clinging to God and his promises, trusting God, and crying out to God. There are many pictures of this in the OT.

One of them is in Psalm 25:1-2, 4-5, 11-15. It says,

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. In you, O, Lord, do I trust. Make known to me your ways and teach me your paths, lead me in your truth and teach me. For you are the God of my salvation, and for you I wait all the day long.” Later on, it continues, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him he will instruct in the way he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his descendants shall inherit the land. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known his covenant. My eyes are ever towards the Lord, who will plug my feet out of the net.”

Another picture is Psalm 119:143-148, 

“143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. 144 Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. 145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes. 146 I call to you; save me, that I may observe your testimonies. 147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. 148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” 

Devotions look differently in the NT era. In this era you have the full revelation. You can see everything clearly through faith, though you still cannot see God through sight. It is like dawn, shining ever brighter as we walk with God and towards eternity. Devotion is also greatly broadened in this era than the OT time. It is centralized on one theme, and that is devotion to Christ. Many verses portrays this well. 

Romans 12:1 says “In view of God’s mercy, present yourself to God as a living sacrifice.”

That is devotion. God calls us to give ourselves fully to him, as instrument, as a vessel, so that Christ may live through us.

Gal 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”.

And the verse you shared last Sunday from 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, for him who died for them and was raised again.”

That is new NT devotion.

(Because of our devotion to Christ, his devotion becomes our devotion and it is in three areas)

Our devotion to Christ is manifested in three major areas. One is our devotion to the Father. This is our personal walk with God. This area is very similar to OT devotion and Psalms is a great book to cultivate this devotion. In Luke 5:16, it says that Jesus would withdraw to desolate places and pray. It was a time to have a close communion with God. It is so essential for the wellbeing to our soul. Our devotion to Christ is manifested also in our love for one another and our love for lost souls in the world. Indeed it encompasses all the seven pillars of our core values.

Lastly, I want to say one major difference of NT devotion from the old is a much greater confidence. We have the full revelation of the Word, we have the help of the Holy Spirit, we see the victorious end by faith.  We are beloved sons of God.

Brad:
I want to talk more about the Apostle Paul.

He went from violent persecutor to godly, merciful follower of Jesus.  What happened?

He was gripped with the mercy of God.

1 Timothy 1:12–17 ESV

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.  But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Paul persecuted God’s people.  God’s chosen ones.  His children.  It’s hard to imagine sin deeper than that.

When Paul came to his senses and he realized who Jesus really was and what he was doing to Jesus’ people, he knew he was guilty before God.  He deserved death.  “The wages of sin is death,” Paul wrote 20 years later.

But God put Paul’s sin on the shoulders of Jesus, and Jesus died in his place.  THAT….that is mercy.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Then vs. 17 is a glorious praise, the conclusion of Paul’s contemplation of God’s mercy and all that he is and does:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul had a high view of God.  He didn’t see God as some sugar sweet God like some Grandpa who lets the grandkids get away with murder.  No, the Lord is the eternal King.  He is immortal—he will never die.

He is the only God…. There is no one else like him.  He is worthy of all honor and glory and praise and singing forever and ever. 

With the realization of radical forgiveness from God, and an understanding of the greatness of God his Creator and Savior, Paul was transformed.

Instead of living a violent life persecuting the followers of Jesus, Paul now became a follower of Jesus.  Loving, kind, gracious, caring, tenderhearted. 

The rich mercy and great love of God has a transformative power.  And with the Holy Spirit now dwelling inside him, Paul could not remain the same.  He was now devoted to the Son of God whom he had previously persecuted.

Paul wrote 13 letters in the NT.  And in virtually every one of them, he has a similar message:  He now loves and is devoted to Jesus who saved him from the wrath of God.

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Brad:

What are some ways we can grow our devotion to Christ?

Guang:

First, since devotion is from the heart, from our inmost being, it is essential to maintain a soft heart towards God, an open and honest heart.  Open to God.  Be fully honest with him.  Tell him your troubles.  Talk to a close friend; talk to me or other pastors if you are comfortable.

1 Build our faith:  How to overcome our lack of faith or even unbelief?

The importance of faith (faith is beginning and foundation)

Attend the Faithwalkers conference. Many times I came in (to the conferences) and was ready to be persuaded. I appreciated what the speakers had, their faith and their devotion. I desired to have what you had. Year and year I was persuaded more and more. Surround yourselves with people who are devout. Come to our monthly prayer meetings. I lead these times and it really cultivates our devotion to God.

2 Meditate on God’s Word:  “It feels like God is millions of miles away.”

Meditation of God’s word. Psalm 1:2-3.

Make the Psalms your song. The book of Psalms can be called Psalms of devotion. Meditate on them, let them run through your mind, let the Psalms be your song. Fill your thoughts with God, deeds of God, characters of God, and words of God. Yes, we cannot see God and he may seem beyond reach at time, but the Word of God provides an effective way to take hold of God.

3 Avoid Distraction

The enemy of devotion is distraction.

1 Peter 2:11 says the passions of the flesh wage war against your soul.

What do you feed? Passions of your flesh or your soul?

Stay connected to your soul and care for your soul. Our devotion to Christ is through our soul.  

James 4:4-5 says that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Strong words. 

Feed your soul: our soul is consumed with longing for His word at all times (Psalm 119:20). The word of God is only thing on earth that is heavenly.  God yearns us to have a close communion with him. And he gives grace. (James 4)

James says, have asoft heart towards God. Draw near to God. He will draw near to you. I said earlier that devotion requires us to love God with all our mind and it is like running a race. We have to focus to do well. We need also to love God with all our strength. I put in a lot of effort into reading God’s word and memorizing God’s word. It is hard work. But it brings great profit. 

4 This is my Father’s world: “bring” God to work or where you are

Colossians 3:23 “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for God, not for men.”

May God be your strength and your song at work, and your salvation.

Do everything in the presence of God

Be worshipful, all the time!